Is it possible to go your Heroine’s Journey into the footsteps of your heroines and be authentic? In 2014, British author Sophie Hannah achieved what many in the literary world believed to be unthinkable. She was able to earn the ultimate seal of approval in the form of being specially selected by the Christie Foundation to take over the penning of perhaps the most popular series in the history of mystery novels: Dame Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot series.
With the release and ultimate success of THE MONOGRAM MURDERS, Hannah more than proved herself worthy of the Christie Foundation’s selection. At times in that novel, the most astute reader might find himself or herself believing that Dame Agatha was still alive, her words and brilliant plotting flowing through the mind of Hannah and pouring out onto the page.
CLOSED CASKET continues the series and once again achieves everything fans of these books have come to expect. Dame Agatha was a master when it came to closed room or seemingly impossible murder cases that were ultimately solved by her fictional sleuths. Perhaps only the great Sherlock Holmes can be held in the same regard as the brilliant Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.
“CLOSED CASKET is a great mystery novel, and longtime fans will cherish the opportunity to spend time in the presence of the great Poirot and marvel at his ability to captivate a room with his famous reveals.”
Poirot and his friend, Inspector Edward Catchpool of Scotland Yard, have been invited to Lillieoak — the palatial home of famed mystery writer Lady Athelinda Playford. The fact that Catchpool acts as narrator for much of the story is an interesting choice. As in grand Christie tradition, a layout of the two floors that make up Lillieoak are provided at the front of the novel. Among the invited guests are Lady Playford’s two children and their respective spouse/fiancée; two representatives from her attorney’s office; her professional colleague and secretary Joseph Scotcher and his nurse; and the household staff consisting of butler, maid and cook.
The proceedings are far from innocent at this Irish manor, and Lady Playford owns a keen eye for human nature that has allowed her to have great success as a mystery writer. Her intention is to have her lawyers reveal to all the contents of her updated will. Surprisingly, she has cut out both her son and daughter and left the entire proceeds of her estate to Scotcher. What makes this an even more shocking selection is the fact that Scotcher is wheelchair bound and suffers from a debilitating and fatal illness.
It will not surprise anyone to learn that Scotcher is killed not long after being named the sole inheritor of the Playford estate. The murder also comes after he allegedly proposed marriage to his nurse and caregiver. Clever mystery fans will immediately look at the two obvious choices as a form of solution — either Lady Playford’s son or daughter did the deed as an act of revenge, or the nurse, now fiancée, killed her lover in order to get all of his newfound wealth. You could not be more wrong…or right.
If this sounds confusing, it’s supposed to be, for this is an Agatha Christie novel. Through the astute eyes and clever use of “gray matter” that Poirot employs, the way the mystery unfolds is a work of art. New clues are scrutinized, and motives along with additional backstories find their way into the plot, making a simple solution look farther and farther from the actual one. The title “Closed Casket” has many meanings, but the simplest refers to a body that is unable to be displayed at the wake or funeral because of the condition it is in — as opposed to an open casket where the body appears untouched.
Sophie Hannah masterfully utilizes both plot elements that mirror Christie’s while still employing the fine eye for psychological tension of which her own books are chock full. CLOSED CASKET is a great mystery novel, and longtime fans will cherish the opportunity to spend time in the presence of the great Poirot and marvel at his ability to captivate a room with his famous reveals.
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